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From Hiroshima to Hollywood

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Excerpts and Reviews for the New Book (So Far)

In the week just before and after publication last week of my new book  THE BEGINNING OR THE END: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb numerous outlets have posted full excerpts and now reviews are also arriving.  The Wall St. Journal  hailed the book, as did the inimitable Charles P. Pierce at Esquire (a fun read, too). And then from an expert at the Federation of American Scientists.  Rod Lurie, director of the #1 movie in USA now, The Outpost, called it "an obvious 'must buy'-- especially if you are interested in World War 2, cinema, or modern American history."

Here are most of the recent excerpts in one place.  You can order from Amazon or an indie site.    
Lit Hub with my detailed exploration of how John Hersey came to write his "Hiroshima" article for the New Yorker and how it was received, with wild praise and some criticism.  This came just as the MGM film was gaining scrutiny, and then orders for revisions, from Truman and the White House.

Mother Jones reveals how Truman and the White House killed the key scene in the movie and  ordered up a re-take, and then got the actor playing Truman fired. 

The Daily Beast just out with a lengthy and wild exploration of a rival film script written by....Ayn Rand.

The venerable and influential Washington Monthly with how Truman's involvement in the movie started with a turning point meeting at the White House.

American History on how MGM needed to get signed contracts from Einstein, Oppenheimer and other leading scientists to be portrayed, and why they mocked the movie--but ultimately caved to pressure--even as the FBI harassed them or tapped their phones.   And this from History News Network on the heated race/competition between MGM and Paramount (Ayn Rand project).

The prestigious Asia-Pacific Journal with brief highlights from the book and then how the script for the MGM movie was revised, under pressure, to include mythical references to the Japanese creating their own atomic bombs to attack the U.S.

Raw Story (and then also picked up by Alternet) with my piece marking 75 years since the only strong attempt to halt Truman's march to use the bomb against Japan--a secret petition campaign led by the great scientist Leo Szilard.   And Global Research posted my article about the chief propagandist for the bomb--the New York Times reporter known as "Atomic Bill."

More on the book here.

From Hiroshima to Hollywood

Just a short update on THE BEGINNING OR THE END:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,  published this week by The New Press.  It reveals how Truman and the military sabotaged the first movie epic about the bomb, from MGM--and why this matters today. You can order the book at a special price right now at Amazon or from your favorite indie site. "A fascinating, sharp-eyed study of Hiroshima's cinematic aftershocks," comments Nicholson Baker, author of Human Smoke and other acclaimed books. Rod Lurie, director of the #1 movie in America right now, The Outpost, calls it "an obvious 'must buy'-- especially if you are interested in World War 2, cinema, or modern American history."

Wall Street Journal hailed the book in a review today.  Other reviews have also been terrific.  Here is one from often-tough Kirkus: "Excellent research and rich dialogue give Mitchell’s book a novelistic flair....Reel film meets real history in this scintillating tale."  Major excerpts just appeared at LitHub and Mother Jones with more coming at Daily Beast, American History, Washington Monthly and elsewhere. Again, click to order here.

Here are five "blurbs," from the leading authority on the bomb, Richard Rhodes, and best-selling authors Gary Krist, Peter Biskind, Nicholson Baker, and Alex Kershaw.   The new book, of course,  marks the 75th anniversary of the creation and use of the bomb against Japan.  I will also note that I have just finished writing and directing my first film, based on a previous book, Atomic Cover-Up.  You can contact me atgregmitch34 (at) gmail (dot) com.

"The Beginning or the End is an engrossing, wry, and always lively look behind the scenes of a historic Hollywood flop.  But it’s also much more than that: a deeply serious, meticulously researched account of how the movie industry—and the American public in general—embraced a comforting myth to justify one of the most controversial decisions in history. This is a first-rate piece of work by one of our most accomplished nonfiction storytellers.” --Gary Krist,  best-selling author of Empire of Sin and The Mirage Factory


"A story of dishy Hollywood doings but with atomic bombs and a screenplay by Ayn Rand—what more could a reader ask for?" -- Richard Rhodes,  The Making of the Atomic Bomb, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award


"From the nation's  top secret to the silver screen:  Mitchell tells an unforgettable tale about a forgotten film and the tug-of-war between scientists, the White House and the Pentagon over the Hollywood version of the bombing of Hiroshima.”—Peter Biskind, best-selling author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

"A fascinating and brilliantly researched account of how Hollywood and Washington grappled with how to portray and profit from the new nuclear age. Another great read and exposé from Mitchell." --Alex Kershaw, best-selling author of The Liberator and Avenue of Spies


Mitchell expertly chronicles the gradual transformation of a gigantic, and still-radiating, moral catastrophe." --Nicholson Baker, author of Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, and Double Fold, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award


"Mitchell shows how this desire to control the narrative around the atomic attacks fed into the U.S.’s continued insistence on its right to launch a nuclear first strike. While the film bombed at the box office, Mitchell’s rich account of its making and larger implications should draw both history buffs and those concerned with the continuing issues around nuclear weapons."
--Publishers Weekly

"This intriguing, behind-the-scenes look at a disjointed creative partnership is sure to be of interest to readers of history and cinema." --Library Journal

"Excellent research and rich dialogue give Mitchell’s book a novelistic flair....Reel film meets real history in this scintillating tale."--Kirkus Reviews

From the publisher's catalog:

Soon after atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, MGM set out to make a movie studio chief Louis B. Mayer called “the most important story” he would ever film: a big budget dramatization of the Manhattan Project and the invention and use of the revolutionary new weapon.

Over at Paramount, Hal B. Wallis was ramping up his own film version. His screenwriter: the novelist Ayn Rand, who saw in physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer the model for a character she was sketching for Atlas Shrugged.

Greg Mitchell’s The Beginning or the End chronicles the first efforts of American media and culture to process the Atomic Age. A movie that began as a cautionary tale inspired by atomic scientists aiming to warn the world against a nuclear arms race would be drained of all impact due to revisions and retakes ordered by President Truman and the military—for reasons of propaganda, politics, and petty human vanity (this was Hollywood).  And all the while, the FBI was surveillng Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard and other scientists for "Communist" connections.

Mitchell has found his way into the lofty rooms, from Washington to California, where it happened, unearthing hundreds of letters and dozens of scripts that show how wise intentions were compromised in favor of defending the use of the bomb and the imperatives of postwar politics. As in his acclaimed Cold War true-life thriller The Tunnels, he exposes how our implacable American myth-making mechanisms distort our history.

"Greg Mitchell is the best kind of historian, a true storyteller."
Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning author  of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

 "Greg Mitchell has been a leading chronicler for many years of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and American behavior toward them."
  Robert Jay Lifton, author of Death in Life (winner of the National Book Award).

Friday, July 10, 2020

Another Death at Los Alamos

I've been posting brief excerpts from my book, The Beginning or the End,  just published,  some of which go far beyond the main subject--the perversion of the original vision for the MGM drama on the bomb due to orders from the White House and military. Here, still in 1946, I explore the death of a second scientist at Los Alamos, on May 30 of that year.  The earlier Daghlian accident had been covered up by the government and later attributed to "burns."
Less than a year after Harry Daghlian died after being exposed to radiation (photo below, Los Alamos witnessed a second fatal accident during a criticality experiment gone wrong. This was the brilliant Canadian native Louis Slotin, age thirty-five, who had helped arm the Hiroshima bomb and then the core slated to be used in the first Bikini blast, which he had planned to witness. 

Enrico Fermi had warned Slotin months earlier that if he continued his risky criticality experiments--known as "tickling the tiger's tail"--he would be dead within a year. Unlike the solo Daghlian accident, this time eight Los Alamos personnel were exposed to the radiation, with Slotin getting far the worst of it. As Slotin lingered near-death for days, the government planned to avoid citing radiation as the culprit in any public statements--just as it had done after the Daghlian tragedy. Then his friend, the physicist Philip Morrison (who had witnessed even worse in Hiroshima), insisted on an honest reckoning. 

In The Beginning or the End, Matt Cochran would miraculously die within a day, while Slotin would experience nine days of suffering; the others exposed would survive. When his passing was announced, Slotin was commonly referred to as "the first peacetime victim" of radiation from the bomb project. To balance the horrors of what nuclear accidents might mean for the future, officials played up the "hero" angle--how Slotin had maybe saved the others by sacrificing himself, reaching in and separating components to halt the runaway atoms. General Groves had written a note to him before he died hailing his "heroic actions" and dispatched a military plane to bring his parents to his bedside. 

The Time headline called him "Hero of Los Alamos" but admitted that radiation releases "may become a familiar factor in the atomic age." Read about or order the book here, thanks.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Hiroshima Pilot Didn't Lose Any Sleep Over It

Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the plane, the "Enola Gay" (named for his mother), which dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. died at 92 in 2007,  defending the bombing to the end of his life. Some of the obits noted that he had requested no funeral or headstone for his grave, not wishing to create an opportunity for protestors to gather.

I had a chance to interview Tibbets nearly 30 years ago, and wrote about it for several newspapers and magazines and in my book published this week,   THE BEGINNING OR THE END:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,  Later I got to meet and sit next to the pilot who dropped the bomb over Nagasaki, Charles Sweeney, on Larry King's CNN show.  I wonder how many other writers have met both of them (and also journeyed to the two atomic cities and met dozens of survivors). 

The hook for the Tibbets interview was this: While spending a month in Japan on a grant in 1984, I met a man named Akihiro Takahashi. He was one of the many child victims of the atomic attack, but unlike most of them, he survived (though with horrific burns and other injuries), and grew up to become a director of the memorial museum in Hiroshima.

Takahashi showed me personal letters to and from Tibbets, which had led to a remarkable meeting between the two elderly men in Washington, D.C. At that recent meeting, Takahashi expressed forgiveness, admitted Japan's aggression and cruelty in the war, and then pressed Tibbets to acknowledge that the indiscriminate bombing of civilians was always wrong.

But the pilot (who had not met one of the Japanese survivors previously) was non-committal in his response, while volunteering that wars were a very bad idea in the nuclear age. Takahashi swore he saw a tear in the corner of one of Tibbets' eyes.

So, on May 6, 1985, I called Tibbets at his office at Executive Jet Aviation in Columbus, Ohio, and in surprisingly short order, he got on the horn. He confirmed the meeting with Takahashi (he agreed to do that only out of "courtesy") and most of the details, but scoffed at the notion of shedding any tears over the bombing. That was, in fact, "bullshit."

"I've got a standard answer on that," he informed me, referring to guilt. "I felt nothing about it. I'm sorry for Takahashi and the others who got burned up down there, but I felt sorry for those who died at Pearl Harbor, too....People get mad when I say this but -- it was as impersonal as could be. There wasn't anything personal as far as I?m concerned, so I had no personal part in it.

"It wasn't my decision to make morally, one way or another. I did what I was told -- I didn't invent the bomb, I just dropped the damn thing. It was a success, and that's where I've left it. I can assure you that I sleep just as peacefully as anybody can sleep."  When August 6 rolled around each year "sometimes people have to tell me. To me it's just another day."

In fact, he wrote in his autobiography, The Tibbets Story, that President Truman at a meeting in the White House after the bombing had instructed him not to lose any sleep over it. "His advice was appreciated but unnecessary," Tibbets explained.

In any event, Tibbets (like Truman) had acted in a consistent manner for decades, while at times traveling under an assumed name to avoid scrutiny. After the war he called Hiroshima and Nagasaki "good virgin targets" -- they had been untouched by pre-atomic air raids -- and ideal for "bomb damage studies." In 1976, as a retired brigadier general, he re-enacted the Hiroshima mission at an air show in Texas, with a smoke bomb set off to simulate a mushroom cloud. He intended to do it again elsewhere, but international protests forced a cancellation.

He told a Washington Post reporter, for a favorable profile, in 1996, "For awhile in the 1950s, I got a lot of letters condemning me...but they faded out." On the other hand, "I got a lot of letters from women propositioning me."

In THE BEGINNING OR THE END:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,  I recall Tibbets' role as a paid consultant to the 1953 Hollywood movie, Above and Beyond, with Robert Taylor in the pilot role. In the key scene, after releasing the bomb and watching Hiroshima go up in flames below, Taylor radios in a strike report. "Results good," he says. Then he repeats it, bitterly and with grim irony.

But that was not in the Tibbets-approved original script for the film. It was added later, presumably to show that the men who dropped the bomb recognized the tragic nature of their mission.

Tibbets criticized the scene when the film came out.

When Jon Stewart Apologized For Questioning Use of Atomic Bomb

Many Americans, past and present, who endorse, if often uneasily, the use of an atomic bomb to destroy the city of Hiroshima almost 75 years ago, have little problem raising questions about the second bomb. On August 9, 1945, three days after the Hiroshima blast, the second atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, killing another 90,000, almost all of them civilians (or Dutch POWs), the vast majority women and children.

My new book, The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop  Worrying and Love the Bomb, covers the Nagasaki bombing (among other things) but also raises important questions about how even today few media commentators feel free to criticize the use of the bomb back in 1945. 

Let's take as just one example  an episode in the spring of 2009 featuring, of all people, Jon Stewart.  One night he bravely (if off-handedly) suggested that President Harry Truman was a "war criminal" for using the atomic bomb against Japan without any prior warning.  He explained: "I think if you dropped an atomic bomb fifteen miles off shore and you said, 'The next one's coming and hitting you,' then I would think it's okay. To drop it on a city, and kill a hundred thousand people. Yeah, I think that's criminal."

After he got a good deal of flack on social media overnight, he offered a rare on-air, and abject, apology. (He could have at least said, Yeah, war criminal for Nagasaki, not so much for Hiroshima.)  As I've documented in three books, this shows how the use of the bomb against Japan remains a "raw nerve" or "third rail" in America's psyche, and media.  Here's the transcript:

"The other night we had on Cliff May.  He was on, we were discussing torture, back and forth, very spirited discussion, very enjoyable. And I may have mentioned during the discussion we were having that Harry Truman was a war criminal. And right after saying it, I thought to myself,  that was dumb. And it was dumb. Stupid in fact.

"So I shouldn't have said that, and I did. So I say right now, no, I don't believe that to be the case. The atomic bomb, a very complicated decision in the context of a horrific war, and I walk that back because it was in my estimation a stupid thing to say. Which, by the way, as it was coming out of your mouth, you ever do that, where you're saying something, and as it's coming out you're like, 'What the f**k, nyah?'

"And it just sat in there for a couple of days, just sitting going, 'No, no, he wasn't, and you should really say that out loud on the show.' So I am, right now, and, man, eww. Sorry."

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

FBI vs. Einstein, Oppenheimer, Szilard

While my book, published today,  focuses on how the first Hollywood epic on the atomic bomb, MGM's The Beginning or the End, was heavily revised (gutted) in 1946 under severe pressure from by Truman and the military, it also explores at length the surprising extent of FBI surveillance of leading atomic scientists suspected of left-wing sympathies: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard.   This include phone taps, mail openings, and following them in the street and across country.   I make use of docs and phone tap transcripts from FBI files.  It was the beginning of the end, one might say, for Oppenheimer's fall, leading to losing his security clearance after a famous hearing.

It's all quite shocking--as is the courting of these men by MGM, and the fact they all finally succumbed--but also, at times, amusing.  

A very brief excerpt involving Szilard and another famed scientist, Enrico Fermi, as well as the director of the Manhattan Project, Leslie Groves:

An Army colonel at the War Department asked J. Edgar Hoover to open a full probe of Szilard, as "he has constantly associated with known 'liberals'...and has been outspoken in his support of the internationalization of the atomic energy program." 

One of the many reports from agents in his FBI file for 1946 admitted that Szilard was "well aware that he has been watched closely inasmuch as the post office inadvertently advised SZILARD and FERMI that General GROVES had ordered all their mail to be opened."

Why Hiroshima Matters Today

Seventy-five years after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb is still very much with us--witness this week's news about the Israelis likely bombing an Iranian nuclear site --and controversy continues to swirl over the decision to obliterate the two Japanese cities.  My new book, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, certainly puts this center stage.

Hiroshima, in any case, remains a vital lesson for us all, not only for the first use of a nuclear weapon there, but because of the “first use” nuclear policy the U.S. maintains today. 

Even the fact that the U.S. still has a first-strike policy (meaning we will use nukes first in a crisis if need be) will surprise many, especially with the end of the Cold War now a distant memory for some.

It’s a subject practically off-limits in the media and in American policy circles. Even the recent antinuclear documentary Countdown to Zero, which outlines many serious nuclear dangers (from an accidental launch to a terror attack on America), failed to even mention the possibility that the U.S. might choose to use nuclear weapons again. Resisting a no-first-use policy, in fact, has been a cornerstone of U.S. nuclear policy for decades.

Following a few positive signs from Obama, I fear that moving very far in the direction of no-first-use is still a long way off in Trump's America.

Perhaps the strongest reason is this: most Americans, our media and our leaders (including every president), have endorsed our “first-use” of the bomb against Japan. This remains true today, despite new evidence and analysis that has emerged for so many years. I’ve been probing this for almost thirty years — in articles, a film, in a book — with little shift in the polls or change in heart among our policymakers and elected officials.

There has also been little change abroad — where the use of the bomb in 1945 has been roundly condemned from the beginning. Indeed, U.S. support, even pride, in our use of the weapon has given us little moral standing in arguing that other countries should not develop nuclear weapons and consider using them, possibly as a first, not a last, resort (that’s our policy, remember).

So it all goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While I respect the views of a range of historians on this matter, and the opinions of the men who fought in the Pacific, I happen to believe the bombs should not have been used against Japan — directly over massive cities — at that time. The war would likely have ended very shortly without it (or a bloody American invasion planned for months later), largely because of the Soviets finally declaring war on Japan — an event long-dreaded by Japanese leaders.

Yes, there was a day when conservatives like John Foster Dulles, columnist David Lawrence, Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight D. Eisenhower — “We shouldn’t have hit them with that awful thing,” Ike declared — clearly condemned the use of the bombs. They knew that the argument of “saving tens of thousands of American lives” only counted if an invasion actually was necessary. We had demanded “unconditional surrender,” dropped the bombs — then accepted the main Japanese demand, keeping their emperor as figurehead.

But the key point for today is this: how the “Hiroshima narrative” has been handed down to generations of Americans — and overwhelmingly endorsed by officials and the media, even if many historians disagree — matters greatly. (And see my book on the extremely significant suppression of footage shot in Hiroshima by U.S. military film crews.)

Over and over, top policymakers and commentators say, “We must never use nuclear weapons,” yet they endorse the two times the weapons have been used against cities in a first strike. To make any exceptions, even in the past — and in certainly a horrid situation — means exceptions can be made in the future. Indeed, we have already made two exceptions, with more than 200,000 civilians killed. The line against using nuclear weapons has been drawn... in the sand.

To cite just one example: Before our attack on Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1990, then-Pentagon chief Dick Cheney said on TV that we would consider using nuclear weapons against Iraq but would hold off “at this point” — then specifically cited President Truman’s use of the bomb as morally correct. Some polls at the time showed strong support from the American public for using nukes if our military so advised. And other polls since then show the same thing concerning other nuclear scenarios. Recent ones show as many as half of U.S. citizens would support on first-strike on Iran or North Korea even if it might kill a million of more.

And, as I’ve noted, the fact that the United States first developed, and then used — twice — the WMD to end all WMDs has severely compromised our arguments against others building the weapon ever since. Hiroshima was our original sin, and we are still paying for it, even if most Americans do not recognize this.

That is why I always urge everyone to study the history surrounding the decision to use the bomb and how the full story was covered up for decades. There is certainly, in the minds of the media and the American public, no taboo on using nuclear weapons, and it all started, but did not end, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is what nuclear abolitionists — or even those who simply want a partial easing of our first-use policy — are up against.

Atlas Begged

Lot of wags having fun (deservedly) today on news that the Ayn Rand Institute had received a huge bailout check from the federal government during the current Covid crisis.  Of course, she was famous for rejecting the notion of aid from on high during her life and in novels culminating in Atlas Shrugged.  She is also a featured character in my new book, published today,  on how Truman and the military perverted the first movie on the atomic bomb, from MGM.  The book also details how Rand wrote a truly wild competing script for Paramount, which ultimately never saw the light of day (until now).

The book follows Rand in the epilogue till the end of her life, when we meet Alan Greenspan and see that she accepted government dough even in her own lifetime.

Critics vied in mocking Atlas Shrugged.  Granville Hicks in The New York Times Book Review judged that it was "written out of hate." Time magazine asked: "Is it a novel? Is it a nightmare? Is it Superman – in the comic strip or the Nietzschean version?"   Even some conservatives blasted it.  Whittaker Chambers, settling in at the National Review after the Alger Hiss controversy, called Atlas Shrugged.

But one of Rand's admirers, Alan Greenspan, wrote a complaining letter to The New York Times Book Review calling the novel "a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting.... Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should."

Rand stayed true to her "Objectivist" calling into the 1970s when her health and income declined.   Going against her steely principles, she filed for Social Security and Medicare benefits.  When she died in 1974 she was buried in Valhalla, New York, with a six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign nearby.  Alan Greenspan attended the funeral.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

When Szilard Tried to Halt Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On July 4, 1945, the great atomic scientist Leo Szilard finished a letter that would become the strongest (virtually the only) real attempt at halting President Truman's march to using the atomic bomb--which was two weeks from its first test at Trinity--against Japanese cities.  

I've written three books on the subject, including  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), and more recently Atomic Cover-Up (on suppression of film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military).  Now Szilard is featured in my new book, published this week, The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, on how Truman and the military sabotaged the first movie, from MGM, on the atomic bomb.

It’s well known that as the Truman White House made plans to use the first atomic bombs against Japan in the summer of 1945, a large group of atomic scientists, many of whom had worked on the bomb project, raised their voices, or at least their names, in protest. They were led by the great Szilard. On July 3, he finished a petition to the president for his fellow scientists to consider, which called atomic bombs “a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities.” It asked the president “to rule that the United States shall not, in the present phase of the war, resort to the use of atomic bombs.”

The following day he wrote this cover letter (below). The same day, Leslie Groves, military chief of the Manhattan Project, wrote Winston Churchill’s science advisor seeking advice on how to combat Szilard and his colleagues. The FBI was already following Szilard. The bomb would be tested two weeks later and dropped over Hiroshima on August 6.

July 4, 1945

Dear xxxxxxxxxxxx,

Enclosed is the text of a petition which will be submitted to the President of the United States. As you will see, this petition is based on purely moral considerations.

It may very well be that the decision of the President whether or not to use atomic bombs in the war against Japan will largely be based on considerations of expediency. On the basis of expediency, many arguments could be put forward both for and against our use of atomic bombs against Japan.

Such arguments could be considered only within the framework of a thorough analysis of the situation which will face the United States after this war and it was felt that no useful purpose would be served by considering arguments of expediency in a short petition.

However small the chance might be that our petition may influence the course of events, I personally feel that it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field went clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of the war.

Many of us are inclined to say that individual Germans share the guilt for the acts which Germany committed during this war because they did not raise their voices in protest against these acts. Their defense that their protest would have been of no avail hardly seems acceptable even though these Germans could not have protests without running risks to life and liberty. We are in a position to raise our voices without incurring any such risks even though we might incur the displeasure of some of those who are at present in charge of controlling the work on “atomic power”.

The fact that the people of the people of the United States are unaware of the choice which faces us increases our responsibility in this matter since those who have worked on “atomic power” represent a sample of the population and they alone are in a position to form an opinion and declare their stand.

Anyone who might wish to go on record by signing the petition ought to have an opportunity to do so and, therefore, it would be appreciated if you could give every member of your group an opportunity for signing.

Leo Szilard
What happened next?  Well, here's a pithy summary from author of bio of Leo Szilard.  As you'll see, the petition gained from than 180 signatures, but was then delayed in getting to President Truman by Gen. Leslie Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project, until the A-bombs were ready to use.  Groves also commissioned a poll of atomic scientists, which found that over 80% favored a demonstration shot only--so he squelched that, too.  Much more in my new book:  The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Oh, Those Japanese A-Bombs!

Another excerpt from my book, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, coming on July 7.  Here on the MGM movie, the first on the atomic bomb: 

The script was adapted to emphasize the desire to portray the atomic attack in a heroic way, and as one absolutely necessary to save America from meeting the same fate. FDR now claims that his psychological warfare experts told him that the “Japs will fight right down to the women and children.” Now the "light flak" greeting the American bombers near Hiroshima--already an enormously revealing falsehood--has been transformed into "heavy flak." Even worse, when purely fictional Japanese fighter planes approach the Enola Gay, they are so close (in the movie) that the Americans need to return fire! The accident that dooms Matt Cochran’s life now occurs before Hiroshima, as he arms that bomb, not in the run-up to Nagasaki. This enabled the script to totally eliminate any depiction of the even more questionable second bomb. 

Even more revealing was the addition of two new, fictionalized, warnings about the Japanese obtaining atomic weapons to greet a U.S. invasion. One of them had Roosevelt musing, “Our latest intelligence worried me . . . the Japs may have atomic weapons before we do.”  Gen. Groves, as before, claims the half million U.S. death toll in an invasion will climb horribly if the Japanese greet the Allies with atomic bombs. But now, when a top U.S. military adviser warns, “The Germans have sent many atomic experts and materials to Japan by submarine,” all of those in the room “are shocked” (a sentiment that would have been shared by any serious historian, since nothing of the sort ever happened). The adviser continues, “We’re slapping down every sub that shows its nose, but some are bound to get through!” 

This desperate rewriting of the script, and history, culminated in the wildest scene yet, adding an element of unintentional black humor to the script. 

The setting: a cove near Tokyo very late in the war. Japanese sailors and scientists gaze off over the water with binoculars . . . and spot a submarine surfacing. A Nazi officer with his aides soon comes ashore. He is accompanied by a Dr. Schmidt, Germany’s leading atomic scientist. Professor Okani, a Japanese physicist, greets him, then tells his colleagues that Schmidt has brought uranium “and everything else we will need.” The Japanese have “factories, men and materials” ready for Schmidt to use to make his bomb. 

Schmidt says the only reason Hitler didn’t get the A-bomb first was because the German labs could not be protected from Allied bombs, but here on Japan “it will be different.” A Nazi officer booms: “Yes! We are not defeated. We can sink the enemy fleet, wipe out their men and bases and begin to fight our way back to Axis victory.” He adds: “Heil Hitler!” The Japanese respond, “Banzai Nippon!” 

And then the kicker. “We have prepared a fine laboratory for you,” Okani tells the Germans, “at our new Army Headquarters in . . . Hiroshima.”

This scene proved to be too much for even Groves to accept, and it would be deleted from the script. Nearly all of the other falsifications remained, however.